Archived entries for Ministry of Health

Health Dollars

In my last post on the Ministry of Health’s new three year deal with Microsoft I wondered whether “health dollars” were the same as real ones. Turns out they are not, more likely the inverse of real money.

According to this article “the health sector is paying slightly more for software licences under the new three-year agreement”.  But in their press release they claimed to be saving money.

So the savings from Microsoft are mythical. The only silver lining is that Microsoft is “allowing” the Ministry to transfer licences should they restructure. Welcome to the world of proprietary licensing. If someone working at a PC is transferred, with PC to a newly named organisation the licences don’t get transferred. Unless you get a special deal.

It sounds nuts because it is. We hear so much about “intellectual property” these days but what could be a starker example of how the concept fails than the idea that a software cannot be transfered with the employee or machine…or if you sell or give away a second hand machine.

“The commission [SSC] has encouraged government agencies to investigate alternatives to Microsoft products, including open-source software, but this was not an option for the sector as Microsoft is heavily embedded in its infrastructure, says Mr Hesketh.”


John Rankin writes eloquently about the Public Sector Remix project the NZOSS is running with 14 government agencies, including New Zealand Post. Whilst I am not able to name all these agencies I am able to say that the MoH did turn down an invitation to join in July last year. This is a shame as they may have gained some useful insights to their dependency as well has being able to help the other participating agencies.

That said, it is not too late to join. A few pilots are about to begin and he project will continue for as long as there is interest from its participants.

New Year and Ministry of Health

First of all, happy New Year and apologies from all PTS bloggers for lack of activity. I know on my part it is not because I don’t have things to write about it is because there is so much to write about. We had some interesting stuff happening on the FOSS front on 2009 and I think 2010 is going to be quite year. In fact, I don’t think I have felt so positive about the understanding and interest in FOSS for a very long time.

But that is for other posts.

Labour’s ITC spokesperson, Clare Curran, pointed to a pre-Christmas press release by the Ministry of Health claiming “health dollars” (whatever they are) have been saved in their shiny new three year deal with Microsoft. The following comments should be taken in some context. It is obvious that following the unexpected failure of central Government to negotiate a deal with MS (and at the same time to properly explore alternatives) it is inevitable that individual agencies arrive at their own arrangements. They also have had very little time to do this, so late in the day was it that the central Government negotiations collapsed. This is not a great negotiating position for taxpayer representatives to be in and my sympathies are definitely with that agency. That said…

The issues with this deal are:

  1. As Clare points out, the MoH needs to produce some facts and figures before making any claims of savings;
  2. Did this procurement go to tender (note, this is *not* a case of SSC negotiating a price that agencies may choose to take up but an actual procurement);
  3. Has the MoH learned the lessons of the past?

Point 3 needs some expansion. As a result of a Windows Virus infection last year we learned that the MoH was tied to IE5 due to legacy applications. Presumably they are also tied to Windows and other software that relates to IE5. The lesson is this, make sure that as applications are replaced and procured they have no proprietary tie ins. Make sure that they are not hooked into closed standards or environments that reduce future choices, increase vendor lock-in and end up wasting millions in “health dollars” in the future.

This policy and strategy needs to be given a public airing so that taxpayers and recipients of health services can be confident that our future investments in health IT return value to stakeholders rather than monopolistic multi-nationals.

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